Right now, I work full-time and am applying to electrical-engineering grad school (part-time) for next Fall.

Does a person apply to master’s program, earn the master’s, and then they are eligible to work on Phd? Or is applying to Phd a separate application process?

I am in USA.

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    One of the things that drives this is the workplace demand/expectations for each degree level. Engineering jobs exist where either Masters or PhD is better suited, so Engineering tends to have a lot of flexibility as to how you get to either degree. At least when I was in graduate school, a major like Psychology was very different. All "Psychology" jobs required a PhD. People who couldn't cut it left early with a Masters, which was like having a Liberal Arts degree.
    – fixer1234
    Jun 19, 2016 at 22:50

2 Answers 2


The answer to your question is highly dependent on the context, in particular, the country and/or the specific institution. A typical way is to apply to a Ph.D. program, having completed (or almost completed - often termed early admission) a master's program. In addition to the early admission, which is focused on students in their later stages in a master's program, some schools have a transfer policy, which, vice versa, is focused on students in their early stage in a master's program (for an example, see this page). Having said that, there are institutions that allow people with bachelor's degree only to apply directly to a Ph.D. program. For more details on this topic and/or some anecdotal examples, see this Quora discussion as well as this question and this question. Finally, it is even possible (though quite rare!) to enroll in a Ph.D. program without having even a bachelor's degree. See this discussion on Academia.SE for details and inspirational examples.

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    My PhD was earned in a slightly different way to what you described.
    – user41783
    Oct 2, 2015 at 3:37
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    Oh, I did not men to be critical - your answer is very good (+1). It just occurred to me how, almost bizarre, my experience was (and how rare it may be)
    – user41783
    Oct 2, 2015 at 3:58
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    @Ghost: Thank you for your kind words (and upvote :-). Even if you would be critical, that would have been fine with me as well — for us, people in, from or around academia, constructive criticism is a totally natural concept, isn't it? As for your experience, perhaps, it was not as bizarre as you think — as I said, I might be not aware of or have missed some options. Oct 2, 2015 at 4:19
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    I more than agree with the first sentence here; the answer might depend not only on the country and the institution but on the particular department within the institution. In my department, the majority of Ph.D. students arrive with just a bachelor's degree, but I'm not at all sure that the same is true in other departments at my university. Oct 2, 2015 at 10:05
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    @AleksandrBlekh Of course, going to PhD needs to be thoroughly thought of. I was reading the links and other posts. Seems you must have your heart in it, no matter how difficult. And it's better to build foundation of knowledge first.
    – Rhonda
    Oct 2, 2015 at 14:36

In my Mathematics program in the US, you could (with a Bachelor's) apply either to the Master's program or the PhD program directly. You could also (I think, though it's not what I did so I'm not sure) move from the Master's program to the PhD without reapplying, or get your Master's from the PhD program as an intermediate step.

However, while all of these were options, you were best off applying directly to the PhD program no matter what your intentions were. You were more likely to be offered funding if you were pursuing a PhD.

  • Very interesting. Have to think several times before deciding what subject to pursue (based on all these posts)!
    – Rhonda
    Oct 2, 2015 at 16:53

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